December 28th, 2018
Major appeals for reform have been issued by the Law Commission, Law Society and there have been several Private Members’ Bills put before Parliament seeking to give cohabitants new family law rights. Nevertheless, there is sadly no urgent political will to reform largely due to the fact that offering cohabitant’s similar rights to married couples is viewed as inappropriate and politically unattainable.
Many believe that, to be more adequately protected, cohabitants would not need parallel rights to married couples. In fact, many cohabitating couples have avoided marriage intentionally not to be obligated by the law in the way married couples are.
The recent proposal in England and Wales is the Cohabitation Rights Bill 2017-19, which proposes to implement the Law Commission’s recommendation by making an “opt-out” system. This would automatically bring cohabiting couples (who had lived together for three or more years or had a child together) within its regulatory scope unless they opted out. They would therefore be eligible to apply for benefits where one party is left in financial difficulty following the relationship breakdown. Most importantly this right would not be identical to marriage, as in the interest of achieving a clear break between the parties, there would be no provision to order periodical payments or ‘spousal’ maintenance, available to married couples under the MCA 1973. This change if brought into law would finally give sufficient protection and legal rights to many who have given up their careers to look after their partner’s children or, for example, where a partner who has worked for years and poured hundreds into their partner’s business, only to be left with nothing when they break up. Therefore, the most vulnerable and dependent cohabitants who believed that their rights are parallel to married couples would be protected.
The need for reform is especially necessary to keep up with the UK’s changing social demographics, considering that cohabitation is the fasted growing family type in England, compared to marriage rates which has been on the steady decline since the 1970s. This ultimately is an issue for Parliament, and as Lord Neuberger has suggested in the last decade the courts have gone as far as they can to recognise the rights of unmarried couples. However, sadly the opposition to offering significant protection to unmarried couples remains strong, just like the entrenched opposition to less traditional family units that are perceived to undermine the legal superiority of marriage as the ultimate family form.
Hawkins Family Law fields 'a very professional team that delivers a high-class service and has strength-in-depth from senior to junior level'. Managing director and team head Jo Hawkins provides 'clear and accurate advice and moral support through often testing times for her clients; she focuses on deriving the best long-term outcome for her client and other parties'. The practice has particular strength financial matters, including divorce and ToLATA proceedings. Other key figures include Loraine Davenport, who has strong collaborative law expertise and handles complex children cases and high-net-worth ancillary relief matters; Annabel Hayward, who focuses on complex financial provision and co-habitation matters; and Stacey St Clair.
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What the team is known for
Boutique family law firm that punches above its weight in terms of high-value and complex matrimonial finance instructions relating to business assets, pensions and substantial property portfolios, including assisting with the handling of assets abroad. Also represents clients in the negotiation of wealth protection agreements and private law childcare arrangements. Fields a team trained in collaborative law and alternative dispute resolution.
An impressed client says: "The team's personal service and individual care is a great asset,"adding that the lawyers are "always available to assist and understand the occasional need for immediate advice and guidance, providing a very reassuring service."
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